UNLV athletics working to be independent of state money

Department bracing for cuts when Legislature meets next month, trying to be proactive in fundraising


Steve Marcus

Jim Livengood, former University of Arizona athletic director, speaks after being announced as the new UNLV athletic director during a news conference at UNLV Thursday, December 17, 2009.

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The UNLV athletic department has nothing to hide with its budget.

That’s part of the logic behind Director of Athletics Jim Livengood making the details of his $26 to $27 million budget available to the public later this month. A copy of the department’s finances — with everything from gains and losses, salaries and expenses, and fundraising figures — will be posted on the department’s website and mailed to donors.

Livengood, who was hired in December 2009, plans on making good on his goal of operating the department without $7 million in state support it receives annually. Giving the public access to information about where funds are spent is a critical part of the process, he said.

While raising at least $7 million more annually is easier said than done -- and something that is years away -- it's an attainable goal, Livengood said.

“We set some aggressive goals and we are right on target to meet those goals,” Livengood said.

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Jan. 24 will present a proposed budget ahead of the state Legislature's session that begins next month. With the state in a poor economic climate, several entities are bracing for cuts.

In 2009, the UNLV and UNR athletic budgets each were trimmed by $300,000. Livengood has no idea how significant the cuts will be during this session, but he is certain there will be less state money available.

“That’s why my goal is to get all state money out of athletics,” Livengood said.

Enter Julio Freire.

Freire, UNLV's senior associate athletic director of development, heads the Rebel Athletic Fund, which is the fundraising division of the department.

For the fiscal year that ends in June, the group’s goal is to have 1,600 donors contributing $4.5 million, with an additional $3.5 million in future-year commitments. For instance, a donor could make a $5,000 gift, paying $1,000 annually over five years.

He has seen early success, especially when considering the area’s rough economy.

Last fiscal year the fund had 1,329 contributions and brought in $3.7 million. This fiscal year it has 1,457 backers and is on track to meet its fundraising goals, Freire said.

“This is arguably the worst economy this country has seen in 80 years,” he said. “With that being said, there is a tremendous amount of Rebel supporters who’ve stepped up. Certainly we have goals. We certainly want to cover that 7 million number from the state.”

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV coach Bobby Hauck yells to his team during the first half of Saturday's game at Sam Boyd Stadium.

Part of the reason for the increase in supporters is the relationship that Freire’s crew of about eight, school officials and coaches have with university supporters.

Earlier this fall, longtime backer Bobby Ellis attended a luncheon where first-year football coach Bobby Hauck was speaking. Ellis, a successful business owner in the tow truck and auto auction industry, was so impressed with Hauck that he did something he hadn’t done in more than 20 years — attend a Rebels football game.

Ellis purchased 93 season tickets, paying a premium rate of $27,000 to show his support. Some season-ticket packages for football cost just $100, but the seat premium upgrade for football and basketball is one way the department makes money on ticket sales.

“That football coach, what a guy,” Ellis said. “You’ve got to hear him speak. He’s going to take that program to a new level, I can sense that.”

Ellis and his wife, Sandy, have been season-ticket holders for basketball since the Thomas & Mack Center opened in the mid-1980s, purchasing the same 14 seats in Section 107.

This year, they took their contributions to another level. They pledged $250,000 to the athletic fund, giving $50,000 annually for five years.

The relationship the Ellis family has with Freire and his crew was a reason behind the generosity.

“These guys are down-to-earth people,” said Ellis, whose Henderson office is packed with autographed basketballs, photos and other memorabilia documenting his passion for UNLV. “Julio is a great, great guy. We hit it off right away. I can’t see how anyone can say something bad about Julio or the people on his team.”

Freire, who previously held a similar post at the University of Arizona, hit the ground running when he started at UNLV about a year ago. He worked under Livengood at Arizona, where he said they raised $8 million annually with another $4 million in future gifts.

He said he feels confident about duplicating that success in Las Vegas. Freire can be spotted at home basketball games walking through the crowd greeting fans as if he's running for president.

“First and foremost, we want to be there for them. They aren’t just a number to us, trust me on that,” Freire said. “Whether it’s access to my cell phone or getting (a duplicate) for a lost parking pass, we are always going to be there.

“We want to take care of the current donor base,” he continued. ”They are critically important to us. We want to provide world-class service to those ticketholders.”

Freire, for instance, took the Ellis family to dinner last week at the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay. He also throws parties for donors, upgrades tickets to a club box for football or helps them get closer to the court for basketball.

Accounting business partners John Wightman and Mark Rich, both UNLV graduates, have given $250,000 over five years, as well as other personal contributions.

Their firm, Rich Wightman & Company CPAs, employs more than a dozen UNLV graduates. They credit the university with creating several memorable moments in their lives and don’t hold back when it comes to helping re-create those moments — especially for athletes.

“It’s a large contribution, certainly, but we are very fortunate in Las Vegas that our firm has been successful,” Wightman said. “This is one of the ways Mark and I choose to give back to the community.”

Continuing to reach fundraising goals won’t strictly hinge on the relationship between department officials and the community. It also is tied to success on the field of play.

“Are people more willing to jump on the bandwagon when things are going well? Absolutely,” Freire said. “There is a direct correlation between the resources at hand and the success on the court or field.”

Additionally, winning also provides immediate help to the budget. If the football team can reach a bowl game, for instance, that would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to the department. It will also receive $600,000 for TCU’s appearance in the Rose Bowl last week as part of the Bowl Championship Series.

Some would argue UNLV enjoying football success is nearly as impossible as raising $7 million annually in this economy. Livengood, Freire and others disagree.

They said they feel the department is on the verge of greatness — one donation and victory at a time.

“Our primary goal is for each of 17 programs to be competitive certainly in the Mountain West Conference, but equally competitive in the NCAA,” Livengood said.

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  2. if they're not independent by now with all of the money they've got coming in they never will be.i'd love to see thier spread sheet

  3. Just as most private entertainment venues have to do, let school sponsored sports entertainment stand or fall on its own ability to generate funds by selling tickets, memorabilia, concession stand commodities and/or advertising. As it is, taxpayers are essentially subsidizing football, basketball, baseball factories, etc, for pro sports teams while academic programs are apparently short-changed. All publicly funded schools, from el-hi to university, should get rid of subsidizing frills and spend their money on what they are supposed to do: educate!

  4. I wish either of you knew what you were talking about.

  5. awww snap, the Fink is tainting basketball articles now. Is nothing sacred?

  6. This is great news! Thank you for all the donors like Wightman, Rich, and the Ellis family. I appreciate your continued contribution to the community.

  7. sports sucks

  8. As a Grad Student at UNLV I am so appalled by the outrageous and naive comments of taxpayer support for education and the educational experience. Going to college is more about just getting an education. It's about becoming a well rounded person that can succeed in LIFE. There is no correlation between financial success and education outside of the facts that the average millionaire had a college GPA of 2.92 and that 90% of all millionaires have a college degree.(The millionaire mind p9 and p13).
    It's the lessons learned about life in college that made them successful not so much the content of the classes.

    With that being said it was the involvement in community and events at college that makes the college experience one of the most memorable of mine.

    Livengood from what I have read has freed Arizona University,his previous employer, from any state funding. He will do the same but people need to be patient. The only good that comes from cutting programs and classes is that we become a dumber society that lack any diversification.

    Thank you to all those that support UNLV and are positive in both comments and energy. This only helps a situation not hurt like negative comments and bad behaviors.

  9. Sorry i had to comment about the ridiculous R-J article Ranking the Rebels top 100. I mean seriously, Spoon James is ranked 70th? Huh?!?? Mark Dickel and Dalron Johnson ahead of Spoon? lol

  10. hey brian,what are you talking much money does atletics pull contracts,live gate,consessions,branded sports apparel.payments from the conference when a team goes to a bowl.doesnt unlv own the thomas and mack, the cox pavillion and sam boyd silverbowl.imagine thier paid want to tell me they lose money at those venues.they only pay a handful of coaches.the players cost them the math.wheres all the money go.

  11. Where does all the money go?

    Supporting non-revenue title 9 sports because they generate zero revenue. All those women's teams i.e. softball, basketball, volleyball, etc. use up the funds generated by men's basketball. Which illustrates the bigger problem at UNLV - usually it's the football program making all the money at a D1 school, not the hoops program. If UNLV actually had a big time football program, this article would be moot and never have to be written.

  12. Exactly. Welcome to the new politically correct college athletic landscape. I believe title 9 explicitly commits institutions to fund EQUALLY men's and women's athletic programs. Thus, while the men's basketball program generates positive revenue, it also requires a certain amount of maintenance cost which must be EQUALLED on the women's side. thanks, title 9!

  13. so your telling me all of the money they make goes to support title 0.i want to see the numbers

  14. If athletics is going to show what expenses they incur, I hope they also include the cost of the facilities. It would be difficult calculate how much these are a cost for athletics since these facilities also have others uses and do generate other income. Think: Thomas & Mack. But to leave them out and yet to be purporting to show you are independent of state money would be misleading in the extreme. Think: Sam Boyd Stadium.

  15. Jahreb & liljoe are 100% correct. Title 9 holds most athletic departments hostage because, by law, whatever mens sports receives womens sports must get the it scholarships, funding, etc, etc...regardless of their revenue generating capability or disability. Plus the "proportionality" aspect of the law requires a gender quota (of course,its not worded like that but that is the effect) based on the overall enrollment of the if half a school is female....half the athletes must be female too. So even if a sport is self sufficient and doesnt cost the school a will still be cut if the proportionality figures dont allow it.

    Its actually pretty remarkable that UNLV is "only" into the state for $7 million (And halfway decent in most other sports too) considering one tier (football) doesnt generate anything....hence our going on the road & being sacrificial lambs in order to get paid or scheduling home games vs a natl power (Wisc) that we know will travel well. But all that does is make it tougher for our football team to be bowl eligble (more money lost) its a tough cycle to be in.

    Its also why the whole "pay college players" debate is moot too. If you give the mens hoops or football teams a gotta give one to the womens cross country & tennis teams too. That might be doable at some of the big time, major conf schools...but it would kill the mid majors like us. Title 9 is cool in that it has made our womens teams world powers across the board in almost every sport...but to athletic depts its THEE biggest obstacle to financial stability.

  16. The Top 100 Revenue Schools in the NCAA
    1. Texas -- $143.5 million; 3.7% growth from 2008-09
    2. Alabama -- $129.3 million; 24.4% growth
    3. Ohio State -- $123.2 million; 2.8% growth
    4. Florida -- $116.5 million; 7.6% growth
    5. LSU -- $109.9 million; 9.9% growth
    6. Michigan -- $106.6 million; 12.1% growth
    7. Penn State -- $106.6 million; 11.1% growth
    8. Tennessee -- $100.7 million; 8.9% growth
    9. Oklahoma -- $98.6 million; 21.1% growth
    10. Wisconsin -- $93.9 million; 4.5% growth

    16. Stanford -- $81.7 million; 9.4% growth

    21. USC -- $75.7 million; 5.5% decline
    22. Oregon -- $75.4 million; 25.1% growth

    26. Kansas -- $71.8 million; 1.8% growth
    27. Texas A&M -- $71.8 million; 1.4% decline
    28. California -- $69.0 million; 5.9% decline

    32. Oklahoma State -- $65.5 million; 8.7% decline

    34. Washington -- $64.0 million; 5.7% growth
    35. Louisville -- $63.5 million; 9.4% growth

    37. UCLA -- $61.8 million; 6.5% decline

    39. UNLV -- $61.2 million; 84.6% growth

    41. Virginia Tech -- $58.1 million; 10.0% growth

    43. Arizona State -- $57.0 million; 7.1% growth
    44. Arizona -- $56.4 million; 8.8% growth

    46. Missouri -- $55.7 million; 3.6% decline

    48. Baylor -- $54.1 million; 11.1% growth

    50. TCU -- $52.4 million; 12.8% growth
    51. Kansas State -- $52.4 million; 10.6% growth

    53. Oregon State -- $51.6 million; 2.9% growth

    56. Colorado -- $49.4 million; 0.9% decline

    60. Texas Tech -- $48.1 million; 3.1% growth

    62. Iowa State -- $46.8 million; 2.3% growth

    65. BYU -- $41.0 million; 15.1% growth
    66. Washington State -- $39.3 million; 2.8% growth

    75. San Diego State -- $32.1 million; 6.9% decline
    76. Utah -- $31.8 million; 0.3% growth

    79. Hawaii -- $31.1 million; 1.9% growth

    81. New Mexico -- $30.3 million; 5.4% decline

    88. Wyoming -- $27.0 million; 9.4% growth

    92. Fresno State -- $26.0 million; 9.5% decline

    96. Boise State -- $25.1 million; 21.9% growth

    I included schools from that ranked in the Top 10, Pac 12, Big 12, MWC, and some of the teams with play on a regular basis.

    UNLV now includes rental revenue from their facilities, and they make a lot of money from the Thomas & Mack Center. That's how they bring in $61 million and "grew" revenue 84%.


    If you're curious why some programs generate what they do, you should check out the EIA data yourself:

  17. @crooksncastles

    Well, if Athletics includes that rental revenue, then they had better also include all costs associated with the facilities themselves in an honest budget. And the costs of any future construction projects.

  18. Why you think events like NFR are held there?